Police nab 10 accused, recover broken pieces of idol; another accused had died in a road accident
The district police on Sunday cracked the mystery behind the disappearance of a 200-kg Nandi idol from a 500-year-old Siva temple at Devalampeta village located deep in the forest of Koundinya Wildlife Sanctuary, near Palamaner, last month.
The police could trace all the 11 accused, but one of them had died in a road accident a couple of days ago near Srikalahasti.
The police also recovered broken pieces of the idol, two auto-rickshaws, three two-wheelers and some tools used in the theft.
The temple management had lodged a complaint with the Palamaner police on April 4 stating the Nandi idol had been stolen.
Superintendent of Police S. Senthil Kumar had constituted special teams with personnel of the Palamaner and Gangavaram police circles.
Following the initial leads, it was observed that a luggage auto had passed by the temple location along with strangers on the night of March 26. The police had verified about 100 hours of CC camera footages at various places and identified a few suspects with the help of mobile signals.
After a week-long investigation, the police nabbed 10 youth, while the 11th one had died in a road accident on April 7.
According to information, Srinivasulu alias Aswathama of Nagar Kurnool in Telangana and Hari of Kandada village of Yerpedu mandal in Chittoor district had developed friendship a couple of years ago while both were working in a paddy field.
Attracted to the treasure hunting errands, the duo had met again during the Maha Sivaratri festival last month.
After visiting several temples at isolated locations, the duo had selected the Sri Mallikarjuna temple, believed to be 500 years old, inside the wildlife sanctuary zone. Except during the Sivaratri festival, the dilapidated temple would hardly see any devotees.
Going by the hearsay that the Nandi idol at the temple had gold, rubies and diamonds worth ₹60 crore inside its belly, the duo had roped in four more youth known to Hari from Poyya and Velavedu villages near Srikalahasti. Srinivasulu had reportedly assured that each of them would be getting ₹10 lakh.
The accused had reached the temple in a luggage auto on the night of March 26 and took away the Nandi idol after dislocating it using crowbars.
In view of night patrolling near Chittoor, the accused, instead of going to Srikalahasti, had proceeded towards Gangasagaram village on the outskirts of Chittoor, and dumped the idol in a pond adjoining a house that belonged to the relative of Rangababu of Poyya village, who too joined the accused in committing the crime.
The accused later dispersed after deciding to break the idol on the night of March 28.
However, Rangababu did not turn up at the fixed hour. Strangely, the other members found the idol missing from the pond.
In the meantime, Rangababu had teamed up with five others, reached the pond on the night of March 27, took away the idol to Poyya village, and hid it in the fields.
On the night of April 2, Rangababu and his team broke the idol into pieces, but found nothing inside it. They later gathered the pieces into three gunnysacks and dumped them beneath the Swarnamukhi bridge nearby.
Using technology, the police teams nab the 10 accused, who included Hari and Srinivasulu, on Sunday. The eleventh accused, identified as Gopi, had died in a road accident. Interestingly, two hours before the accident, a police team was at Gopi’s village to nab him.